Why I Traded Boardrooms In NYC For Surfboards In Costa Rica

Written by Erin Robinson

After three intense years of working as a consultant at one of the largest professional services firms in the world, I picked up and moved to Costa Rica to work pro-bono for a place called Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp. People told me I was crazy for leaving behind a sizable salary to get paid in surf and yoga lessons. And maybe I was (and still am!) crazy. But I don't feel crazy, at least not if that's supposed to be a bad thing.

I used to be the classic overachiever archetype (e.g., valedictorian, student body president, top-rated consultant). But one day I realized that my constant pursuit of success wasn't serving me. In fact, it was burning me out. I needed a change.

Where I now work is a socially and environmentally responsible surf and yoga camp located along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It differs from other luxury surf camps by focusing on community engagement, environmental responsibility, and personalized instruction.

During my three-month stay there, I learned to surf on a marine-protected beach that is sandy and remote, with perfect waves for a beginner surfer like me. I practiced yoga on a quiet outdoor platform surrounded by palm trees and hummingbirds. I ate home-cooked meals made from fresh, local ingredients, served family-style to encourage a sense of community among guests and locals. On top of it all, I helped with business strategy, financial modeling, marketing, and their sustainability program … all while wearing a T-shirt and backward hat.

To be clear, rural Costa Rica was a world apart from the corporate one to which I’d grown accustomed. In my previous life, I would show-up to work before sunrise and leave well after sunset. On weekends, I partied until 4 a.m. and spent each Sunday glued to Netflix. The closest I came to nature was Central Park.

Gradually, Costa Rica changed that. I went from commuting in airplanes to biking on dirt roads; from five-star hotels to actually seeing stars at night; from sirens wailing and cars honking to birds chirping and cicadas humming. Instead of working 60-hour weeks, I would practice yoga every morning and surf every evening. Instead of watching Orange is the New Black on repeat, I would watch the last bit of orange dip below the ocean at sunset.

So what made me decide to shift my lifestyle?

1. I reflected and wrote down how I felt: body, mind, and spirit.

When I really started to tune into my body, I realized a lot about how I had been feeling for a long time. My body felt drained, my mind felt cluttered, and my spirit felt ignored. I realized that my work-hard, play-hard lifestyle had caught-up to me. I needed to slow down. Period.

2. I was proactive about pursuing alternative options.

Specifically, I researched my company’s sabbatical options. And the result was surprising: my company offered numerous opportunities to take time-off. I didn’t have to quit! I decided I wanted to explore Latin America and work on a service-based initiative.

3. I assessed whether or not the time was right.

And guess what? It was. After taking the three steps above, I found Bodhi Surf and packed my belongings. When I got to Costa Rica, I was surprised to find others who had made a similar shift. I met a Canadian family, with two young children, who were taking a year off to live abroad; a Californian couple, who had left home nine years ago, never to go back; a Spanish restaurant-owner, who lived in Costa Rica half the year. As it turned out, the road less traveled was more traveled than I thought.

Living in a foreign country pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Leaving my job, even if only temporarily, felt like a major risk. Writing a new set of rules for my life was scary but ultimately liberating. Without trying or caring if others noticed, I became the confident, balanced, happy woman I wanted to be. Working at Bodhi Surf in Costa Rica reminded me that business, ethics, and healthy lifestyle are not mutually exclusive. In fact, businesses and people thrive within that paradigm.

Sure, my move to Costa Rica was temporary. But now I'm re-energized, and have since returned to the U.S. for full-time graduate school. I'm doing something aligned with my passion, that both challenges me and reinforces my strengths.

Like me, you may come to a crossroads where the day-to-day seems overwhelming, and the big picture seems lost. You may need a major change. You may just need a vacation. Either way, I encourage you to: 1) Assess how you feel. 2) Research your options. 3) Determine if the time is right for you to make a change in your life. It’s not as scary as it may seem.

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